President Donald Trump has further distanced himself from the Republican Party establishment after their Democratic rivals romped to victories in a pair of statewide elections.
In a Virginia gubernatorial election that was seen as a potential proxy for the full midterm elections next year, Democrat Ralph Northam beat his Republican rival Ed Gillespie by around ten per cent.
The GOP had hoped that polling showing a tightening gap between the pair would be replicated on election day, but Northam’s strength in population centres in the straight proved too great.
Virginia is the only state which term-limits Governors to prohibit consecutive terms, and Gillespie was noted for walking a tightrope between his undeniable establishment credentials as a former advisor to George W Bush and Mitt Romney, and endorsing some of the racially charged ‘culture war’ issues that fire up the President’s base, such as NFL protests and Confederate statues.
Northam was also keen to avoid making his campaign about Donald Trump, even in a state that he lost handily to Hillary Clinton in the Presidential election last year.
Local campaigners say that Republicans changing their healthcare and gun control were two issues that had an impact on the race, which was burnished by gains for the Democrats in the local state legislature, including the victory of a trans woman over a noted anti-LGBT politician.
While a tight race was expected in the Commonwealth, the race to be the Governor of New Jersey was a foregone conclusion, with the Democrats winning the state for the first time since 2009.
Former Presidential candidate Chris Christie, one of the first big name Republicans to endorse Trump, was beset by scandal in his second and final term, and is seen to have damaged the party’s candidate in the race with his record-setting low approval ratings.
Compounding a bad night for the President, one of his most prominent critics, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, was re-elected in a landslide, and immediately sparked more speculation about a future Presidential bid with a wide-ranging acceptance speech.
Trump sought to distance himself from Virginia candidate Ed Gillespie, tweeting: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before.”
The results are certain to spark further internal debate in the Republican Party, with pro-Trump surrogates claiming that Gillespie wasn’t full-throated enough in his support of the President, while more establishment figures using the defeat to highlight a potentially negative Trump effect heading into the Midterm Elections next year.